Read Young Rissa Online

Authors: F.M. Busby

Young Rissa

Young Rissa
The Rissa Kerguelen Saga: Book One

F.M. Busby

 

For Michele
 

 

 

 

Prologue
 

 

Twenty-Three years before Rissa Kerguelen was born . . .
 

Aged ninety-two, Heidele Hulzein died. Control of the Hul-zein Establishment passed to Heidele's parthenogenetic gene-replicated daughter, Renalle.
 

The bid of United Energy and Transport won the North American election and ousted the Synthetic Foods combine from control of that continent. UET's new Presiding Committee immediately began construction of the controversial Total Welfare Centers.
 

Near Crater Lake, Oregon, the first known alien spaceship landed. UET pronounced it a hoax, meanwhile sending Committee troops to investigate.
 

The commanding general followed orders. As soon as he ascertained that the Shrakken lacked faster-than-light communications, he pumped their ship full of cyanide gas. The media reported the aliens' unfortunate susceptibility to Earthly infections.
 

Within the year UET's laboratories duplicated the Shrakken space drive. Earth — or rather, UET — began interstellar travel. Going always away from the Shrakken worlds, UET found habitable planets and began colonizing — not always with the colonists' consent.
 

Some ships did not return. Space is vast and light-speed imposes limits, but dissidents spoke of Escaped Ships and of Hidden Worlds. UET halted exploration to guard its holdings against outlaw raids. Such raids were not long in coming.
 

Twenty-three years after the Shrakken landing, UET moved — massively — against the Hulzein Establishment. Aged eighty-six, Renalle Hulzein fought and died where she had lived, but her daughter Erika — also parthenogenetic, carrying only Renalle's replicated genes — escaped southward. By Renalle's forethought and her own, she salvaged much of the Establishment's assets and a majority of its personnel.
 

Fourteen days after Renalle Hulzein's life ended, Rissa Kerguelen's began.
 

 

 

 

 

Young Rissa
 

 

Rissa and her brother — Ivan Marchant, three years older — were born to free parents. David Marchant and Selene Kerguelen, married oldstyle, worked as a Tri-V reporting team. Rissa could not remember a time when she had not watched the Tri-V news, hoping to see them reporting an item from the field. When she did see them, she waved — and took it as a matter of course that when they finished speaking they usually waved back.
 

She did not know what “condominium” meant, but she knew she lived in one — a massive building of many levels, bounded by streets. One level was for school, but even when she was too young for school, she was never lonely. First there had been the men and women who tended the creche, and later the ones in the Flat-V beside the kitchen — if she needed something she pushed the button and asked for it, and the person talked to her and usually sent or brought it. Occasionally someone came and helped her when she had not asked, so she knew they could see and hear her, regardless of whether she pushed the button. She liked these people well enough. But she loved David and Selene and Ivan and was always glad when they came home from work and from school.
 

Rissa was five and had begun school herself the day her parents did not come home. Voris Kerguelen, her uncle, came instead. He prepared a meal for her and Ivan — it was past dinnertime — and refused to answer questions until the children ate. Rissa did not protest; she was hungry.
 

She was wearing a favorite red dress; her long dark hair was in pigtails. Ivan wore green coveralls; when he grinned he showed new front teeth too big for his young jaws. But when Uncle Voris told them what had happened, Ivan grinned no more. He cried instead, and so did Rissa. She also threw up her dinner.
 

On assignment, covering a Total Welfare Center riot, David and Selene had been taken hostage. When Colonel Osbert Newhausen ordered his Committee troops to gas the entire block-building, they had been killed with the rest. Tri-V had not shown that incident.
 

One arm around each child, Voris said, “It happens; they knew the risks. Those murderers — there's no safety anymore.” His arms tightened. “But don't worry. I'll take care of you.”
 

He stayed the night, sleeping with a child held close on either side. Rissa slept with an arm across his body, holding Ivan's hand.
 

 

The door buzzer, next morning, interrupted breakfast. Voris admitted a stocky, uniformed woman. She brushed unruly graying hair back from her eyes and said, “Welfare Agent Compter. I have a pickup order for two kids — Ivan Marchant and Rissa Kerguelen. These them?”
 

“Wait a minute! You can't do that — these are my sister's children. I — ”
 

“You're the uncle?” She presented a document. “Here's the pickup — read it and sign it. Or don't, for all I care. Consent isn't legally necessary — just makes it neater.”
 

Voris began a violent motion, then checked it and took the papers. “Hold on a minute, will you, Ms. Compter? I said these children are my sister's. I'm ready and willing to take the responsibility, so your good offices aren't required.”
 

She took back the folder, thumbed through it. “Voris Kerguelen?” He nodded. She shook her head. “You know better than that, Kerguelen. It says here — not married, oldstyle or freestyle — authorized bachelor quarters only, no children allowed. What do you think you're trying to pull here?”
 

“Damn it, I can
get
married. Or arrange for child care. I — ”
 

“It won't work — the kids aren't yours and you can't afford it. So sign the pickup or don't, but quit holding up my schedule. I'm busy, even if you're not.”
 

Rissa looked from one to the other, not understanding, and began to cry. Ivan came to hold her, and Voris to hold them both. He said, “Compter — can't you give me some time? Schedules — “ He shook
 

his head. “Sure — I know. But these are
children —
and Total Welfare is no more than legalized slavery. I can't let you — ”
 

Flat-voiced; “You can't stop me. And watch your mouth, Kerguelen — or you could be next. Total Welfare is an accepted principle; when the government takes over all your debts and responsibilities and provides subsistence, what more can you ask?”
 

Voris's fists clenched. “Did you ever hear of choice?
That's
what I ask — for these children. In your hands they'll never have it.”
 

The woman sneered, but spoke formally. “As you well know, when Clients are old enough to be sent out to work, their earnings go into their personal accounts. Thrifty Clients who pay off their obligations and achieve a positive balance have the right to buy out at any time.”
 

“If they don't eat! How many ever make it?” He shook his head. “No
 

— the only ones who ever get out are the few who win big in the lottery.” “We can't help it that these people are basically lazy. That's the
reason
for Total Welfare.”
 

“If you say so.” He leaned forward. “And how many are on it now? Fifteen percent? Twenty? The way it's growing, you'd think UET wanted
everyone
Welfared.”
 

Without expression she looked at him. “That's not such a bad idea, Kerguelen — within limits, not bad at all. And the percentage is nearly thirty. Now — are you going to sign or aren't you?”
 

He held up a hand. “Wait — you pushed me too fast — I wasn't thinking. What about my sister's estate, and her husband's? I'm executor of their wills; surely I'm authorized to use the money for the children's care. So — ”
 

Compter laughed. “Estates? Those two were charged and convicted of helping instigate the riot. Their assets are forfeit.”
 

“Damn you! I'll appeal that — and sue in the children's name for damages, for their parents' deaths. You'll see — ”
 

“I see you're as reckless as you are ignorant. Do whatever you please —
after
I get these kids to the Center, where they belong.”
 

Voris squatted to hold both children tightly. “All right. Ivan — Rissa — you'll have to go with Ms. Compter now. But it won't be for any longer than I can help.” He stood again. “Very well. I'll get their things together — it won't take long.”
 

“They take nothing.” She unzipped her tote bag. “Get them out of those clothes, into these jumpsuits and sandals. That's all they need, where they're going.”
 

Saying nothing, Ivan exchanged his clothing for the shapeless blue-gray garment. Voris undressed Rissa, but as he fastened the jumpsuit, she reached out.
 

“My pretty dress!” Voris looked at the woman; she shook her head and put the dress aside. Rissa evaded Compter's reaching hand and ran to a closet; when she turned back to the room, she held a doll. “My dolly — I
need
my dolly.”
 

“Take it away from her, Kerguelen.”
 

Voris gestured, entreating. “But a doll — just
one
doll?
Why?

 

“No personal possessions. The others steal them; it causes fights.” Voris did not move. Compter shrugged and slapped the small girl, then took the doll and tossed it away. Voris started toward the woman; she laughed. “Touch me and you're Welfared — you know that.”
 

Tears wet Rissa's cheeks. Compter said, “Come on, crybaby.”
 

“She is not!” Ivan's voice raised. “Don't call her that! She hardly ever cries.”
 

Fists clenched, Voris said, “She's always been . . . a happy child.”
 

“Then she shouldn't have much trouble adjusting. All right — let's go.”
 

Voris crouched before Rissa, hands cupped near his chest. “Rissa? Look, Rissa.” She stopped crying and nodded. “Rissa, this is a pretend doll. See how I hold her? Now I'm going to give her to you, and nobody can ever take her away.”
 

He reached out, and Rissa did; and then it was she who held the doll-sized space of air. “What's her name, Uncle Voris?”
 

“You name her, Rissa.”
 

“All right.” She thought. “She's Selene — like Mommy.”
 

Foot tapping, Compter opened the door. Voris kissed both children and let them go. When he would have followed, the woman shook her head. Rissa looked back and saw him standing, gaze downcast. She waved, but he did not look up.
 

Then the door closed.
 

 

First the familiar corridor, then a moving walkway, then an elevator that sank past many levels to a vast, dimly lit space. Rissa and Ivan followed the woman past massive concrete pillars to one of many parked groundcars, and entered it. Compter drove along aisleways and up a spiral ramp to outdoor sunlight.
 

They rode for a long time, but Rissa paid little heed to what they passed. Softly, under her breath, she hummed — and in her arms she rocked Selene.
 

The car slowed. Rissa looked outside and saw they were approaching six massive, grouped buildings, each covering a city block, and connected by enclosed overhead bridges. She saw no windows, only blank slabs colored blue-gray, slightly darker than her jumpsuit.
 

Other books

Five Odd Honors by Lindskold, Jane
The Siren by Alison Bruce
Sacred and Profane by Faye Kellerman
Dead Giveaway by Leann Sweeney